Skip to content

Forgive yourself for responding imperfectly to injustice and mistreatment

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
Forgive yourself for responding imperfectly to injustice and mistreatment
Photo by Melanie Stander / Unsplash

(Forgive others, too, but it's usually harder to forgive yourself.)

This is a little bit about not victim-blaming, but it's not just about harassment, but any situation where someone has been rude or aggressive or crossed a boundary, and you didn't respond the way you would like to have. Maybe you went along with something instead of shutting it down, or you shut it down too forcefully or in an unhelpful way and the situation escalated instead of improving.

We are all getting better at forgiving ourselves for being victims, I think, I hope, but it's harder when we actually did handle a situation poorly, or at least suboptimally. Because, well, I should have done x instead of y, that's just true, it's an undeniable fact. So here are some things to remember:

1. You generally try not to breach social etiquette, and having to do so makes you stressed and uncomfortable. Usually these imperfect responses happen in a situation when the other person has breached normal social rules first, and it leaves you no way to respond that's back within bounds. It's weird and rude to ask a housemate if they stole something from you, for example - so maybe you don't ask, when you should have, because it feels like such a weird thing to ask? Being forced to breach etiquette (to make a scene, to make a big deal about nothing, to be be petty about money, to take jokes too seriously) is one of the things that sucks about being transgressed against. Putting you in that position - where you might not know how to respond - is part of the transgression.

2. You probably have very little practice at responding to whatever situation it was you didn't respond perfectly to. How often does that happen to you? Once or twice before at most? So, okay, you are a beginner at this. Beginners are not supposed to be good at things. It is normal for beginners to make mistakes. Beginners who make mistakes aren't idiots, they're just... beginners.

3. If there was an 60/40 chance of whatever you did making things better, but it made things worse, you still did the right thing. You couldn't have known, then, what the consequences would be, and you made a guess about what to do to improve the situation. The fact that you turned out to be wrong doesn't mean it was a bad guess, or that it was bad to make a guess at all. (Similarly: if you make a 100 to 1 gamble and you win, it was still a stupid gamble and you get no credit for the fact that you lucked out.)

4. Did you fuck up 100% or like, 4%, and you're really obsessively fixated on that 4?

Note: frankly some people could stand to forgive themselves a little less, but they don't need convincing to let themselves off the hook so i don't think there's any harm in saying: go easier on yourself. And of course, none of this means don't learn from it so you'll have a better shot next time (I'm typing that solely as a disclaimer to anyone thinking "but if you forgive yourself, how will you learn? isn't this encouraging laziness and continued bad responses?" no it's not, don't be a doofus)

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #33 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.